Friday, June 28, 2013

My Japanese Gym

I've always liked working out at a gym. I started the habit back in Montreal, then continued in Korea for the whole year I was there. Surprisingly, I never joined a gym in Japan- due to various reasons, such as moving around too much, and well, being too far in the countryside. It's something I've been missing for nearly four years, and although I run around my neighbourhood, I don't feel like it's enough and I should be exercising with different equipments.

Gyms are different everywhere in the world. I liked my gym in Canada even though it was populated with tanned, beefy types, and my Korean gym was absolutely hilarious- filled with pushy elderly people, and a year working out there probably gave me enough material to write a book. I eventually grew to love that dirty, dingy gym with its obsolete fleet (fat-slapping machines, treadmills without an incline), and naked ladies in the sauna eating snacks (no kidding).

My Japanese gym is a different story. It's the extreme opposite of my Korean gym, and a few notches beyond my Canadian one- and not necessarily in a good way. The mere process of registering took nearly an hour and a half, and required more paperwork than when I first got my apartment. I filled out about six different forms, read endless pages of rules, and was instructed on how to proceed, from the arrival to the locker room etiquette and locker code procedure, to the machine use and towel organization. Every detail was explained thoroughly in the form of thick binders and lengthy speeches, and I tried not to crack up when I saw the example member card featuring a giraffe. While I do appreciate explanations on how to use the facilities, I don't think the illustrated manga-like booklet about manners was necessary. I left with a heavy plastic bag filled with brochures and booklets, and a spinning head.

To be honest, all the rules and paperwork made me quite nervous, and I'm now terrified to use the gym by myself for the first time. Too many rules means I'll definitely commit a faux-pas, and I'll be known forever as the foreigner who walked into the gym with the wrong pair of shoes. The process is all very Japanese, and while the organization and social order is one of the things I like best about Japan, too many rules have the opposite effect on me. It makes me feel inadequate and childish, and I just want to enjoy the gym and not have to be self-conscious or conspicuous.

I never used to feel so much pressure about following social conventions, especially when I first moved to Japan. Yet, after living here for a number of years, I graduated from my passerby status, and I somehow feel like I have to tone down the 'foreign-ness', and blend in a little more- which is, and will always be an impossible task. It's silly how a simple gym registration is making me so anxious and bringing up other issues.

Wish me luck for my first workout session. I received a free pass to give away, so I begged my boyfriend to come along for the first time and show me how to behave in a Japanese gym, so it can ease the pressure a bit.

Has anyone experienced something similar in Japan? Or is it just my gym?

The paperwork is more exhausting than the actual gym.

Rules are easier to follow when they're cute.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Running + Summer Plans

My summer plans include a much-needed trip back home to Canada and I'm researching tickets now- any tips for cheap flights between Japan and Canada? Any websites, or travel agencies you like in Tokyo? Any help is appreciated!

Besides a trip to Canada, depending on how much free time I have, I'd like to attend a few summer festivals (Summer Sonic is at the top of my list, mostly because of the eclectic lineup), go away to the mountains for a few days, and read more books. I think it's a shame I don't read half as much as I used to, but there's no excuses when Amazon Japan delivers for free and L'Institut Français has a well-stocked library a few train stops away.

I'm also running consistently again. The weather is hot and humid and soon I'll be confined to the walls of the gym, but for now late-nights are perfect for a run. My neighbourhood is full of narrow, dwindling streets which offer a balanced amount of hills and not too much traffic. 

I was just thinking about how 2013 is already at the halfway point. So much happened in the first part, it was such an eventful start of the year: I moved houses, changed jobs, and changed my lifestyle completely it seems. I love the outcome and my new home, but it was incredibly stressful and I hope the rest of the year is more relaxed.

In other news, I received the latest nail colour from Chanel, so I painted my nails blue. I am loving this metallic blue-green shade, it's reminiscent of the sea, and I think it will be my summer hue. Thoughts? The name is "Azuré".

Chanel Azuré

Run, run, run

Mac 'n Cheese (or Kraft Dinner as we call it in Canada)
means I miss home

Someone gave me a homemade cupcake! So adorable!

Wednesday night randomness + Cutters Tokyo tee

Monday, June 24, 2013

Green Tea Soba + Roppongi

As I've mentioned before, Roppongi is one of my least favourite places in Tokyo. It's a different world out there, and I never feel quite comfortable amongst all of the activity that goes on there. Yet, Roppongi has two sides: the infamous, seedy part where foreigners and locals rub um, elbows, and the other part, with its sickeningly luxurious shopping malls (Roppongi Hills and Midtown), embassies and streets lined with trees, Harry Winston and Tiffany's. You can guess which part I like best, and well, once in a while I do enjoy a stroll around the posh side of Roppongi and a browse at the big Starbucks bookstore, which feels a lot like home. Yet, watching the sleazy part of Roppongi from a distance is equally fascinating, but I digress.

I found myself in Roppongi to watch a live concert by Canadian artist Maylee Todd, whom I had interviewed for Tokyo Weekender. Turns out she is such a fun, playful performer, and she made an uptight Japanese audience stand up and dance, so kudos to her, she has my respect forever. Her Toronto-based band was equally fun, and it was nice to chat up with them after the show, made me nostalgic for Canada. I hope they loved Tokyo as much as I do.

On Sunday, it was Green Tea Everything: the day started with a park stroll, green tea frappuccino in hand, and end with some green tea soba for dinner. Yes, green tea soba! We found a little, family-run shop in my neighbourhood that's apparently quite famous, and we ate cold green tea soba in a traditional shop overlooking a gorgeous Japanese garden. I've been having some slightly negative feelings about Japan lately, due to some paperwork issues and contracts and all, and the bureaucracy has been mentally exhausting. Sometimes I need small reminders of how much I love being here- and small silly things like green tea stuff and impeccable gardens can instantly restore my mood, or faith.


Green Tea Frappuccino. Isabel, it makes me miss you!

Green tea soba and tempura, still dreaming about this meal


Maylee Todd concert- she's somewhere in the crowd. Go Canada!

Rosewater and mint Julep from Dean & Deluca, so refreshing

Friday, June 21, 2013

Vegetable and Chicken Udon Recipe

I eat next to my MacBook- how classy.

This niku udon (meat udon) is my staple food- when I feel sick, cold, or just broke because it's so cheap and easy to make, yet nutritious and tasty. My boyfriend taught me how to make this, and he makes fun of me because I constantly make it, and he thinks it's a bit odd.

I'm not sure of all the ingredients names, but all of them can be easily found at any supermarket in Japan, they're very basic. If you're abroad, I think you can find most of them in Asian markets. You can click on the links to read more and see photos to recognize the items.

Keep in mind that this is my creative twist and my own techniques on it, but it works well.

Here it is.

Vegetable and Chicken Udon Recipe


Ground chicken (small pack)
Firm tofu called momen (one block)
Harusame noodles (one pack)
Udon noodles (one pack)
Grated carrots and bamboo (you can buy a ready pack)
Shungiku leaves (which are difficult to get outside of Japan)
Green onion negi (one stem)
Instant dashi (fish stock, I use one tea bag)
Sesame oil (one teaspoon)
Soy sauce (one teaspoon)
Konbu tsuyu sauce (a rich stock, a few teaspoons to taste)


- Boil about 4 cups of water with the dash bag in it. You can remove the bag once it's boiling.

- Mix the ground chicken with sesame oil and roll into small meatballs, and add them to the boiling water to cook.

- Rinse the clear harusame noodles, and add to the water.

- Rinse the tofu, cube it and add to the water.

- Cut the green onion and shunpike leaves, and add to the water along with the carrots and bamboo.

- Add the udon noodles at the last minute, as they're better when not soggy.

- Add the soy sauce and konbu tsuyu sauce, and taste as you go along.

It doesn't need to cook for very long, as long as the meatballs are fully cooked, it's ready. It makes about 4-5 portions, so I usually eat it for a few meals. If you have most staple ingredients on hand, buying the fresh produce to add will barely cost you ¥400-¥500.


Heavy Rain and Food

It's been raining nonstop for what seems like forever. Probably about 24 hours or so, but it feels like it's never going to end. I like it, but I'm confined to my house and I'm starting to get cabin fever- two trips to the grocery store in my pajamas and rain boots don't cut it.

A few days ago I attended one of the best press events I've been to lately, a launch for the Blue Moon craft beer, a Belgian-style beer with orange undertones. It was tasty, and although those press conferences are usually real snoozers, this one was actually interesting, not to mention the tasting menu and huge food spread, complete with rhubarb cherry pie, dark chocolate cakes, raspberries, and other things I rarely get to eat in Japan.

As the event was held in the posh bookstore in Daikanyama (T-Site, to be precise), I drunkenly browsed the books and was surprised to find "Cupcakes and Cashmere" by the lovely Emily. Her blog was actually the first ever blog I started reading, back in Korea when I found myself introduced to the world of blogging, during long hours desk-warming at my school. I was pleasantly surprised to find her book all the way in Japan- kudos, Emily!

In other news, I was introduced to a Japanese movie (based on a television series) called "Densha Otoko", in English "Train Man". It's about a mega nerd of Akihabara who falls in love with a girl he met on the train, while saving her from a drunken salaryman. They go on all those awkward dates, and he writes about it on a forum online. I loved the movie so much! I like seeing familiar Tokyo landmarks in movies, I thought the story was adorable. I watched with English subtitles, but I could understand most of the Japanese, so I highly recommend it.

I heart this book! 

Cake and pie.

Pie, pie, pie!

Infinite goodness.

I like this beer, quite light and summery.

My animals were waiting for me when I got home after work.

My hair is staying smooth in this humidity thanks to Kiehl's- no kidding.

This isn't my boyfriend, but the boy from the movie "Densha Otoko"

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rainy Season Fun

Even though it's been rainy, hot and muggy, and I've been concerned about passport and visa issues (the tedious part of living abroad), I've been having so much fun those past few days. I saw The Great Gatsby at the movie theatre, which is a rare treat I allow myself in Japan, since the cinema is so expensive. I liked the movie for the aesthetic parts, but nothing beats the book. I made a nice breakfast of pancakes with mango, blueberries and watermelon. I took the train outside of Tokyo. I met Shikoku friends at a New Zealand restaurant, where we devoured cheese plates, steaks and red wine, and finished the evening with ice cream and beer at the park, before having to run for shelter after a rainfall. I had lunch in Aoyama with a lovely lady, and a soba set complete with fresh tuna sashimi on rice.

I finally upgraded my slow, old iPhone to a brand new iPhone 5- a challenging, frustrating and somehow humiliating task for non-Japanese, between having to produce five different kinds of ID and having the uncomfortable SoftBank staff obviously baffled at having to deal with a foreigner. Thankfully not all the staff is unprofessional, and with some help I emerged with a brand new toy. I love how I can use the phone as a wifi device, as free wifi is virtually nonexistent in Tokyo, so I'm not limited to Starbucks anymore.

I also went shopping for house stuff, and cockroach-proofed my house. I purchased those small roach traps, apparently they're the most effective. The traps have a bait that lures the roaches in, and they get trapped in a sticky substance. It's better than the cockroach spray, which contains many strong chemicals. I hate the whole topic of cockroaches, but it's a part of Japanese summer, so it's highly recommended to use those traps and to keep the house spotlessly clean, especially the kitchen.

In other news, I've been keeping my hair healthy with shampoo and conditioner from Kiehl's, I received samples and I'm hooked! My hair is so soft and moisturized, and luxurious treatments really do make a difference. I've been meaning to try this no-shampoo regimen to get my hair back in shape, but I'll wait a bit longer...

I already outfitted my phone with the cutest, girlies case I could find at ドンキ

My most recently used emoticons... recurring ones, so random.

Salmon sashimi, shiso leaves and daikon on a bed of rice